This year’s Champions League quarter finals offer up two potential stonewall classics in Juventus v Barcelona and Bayern Munich v Real Madrid not to mention the prospect of Leicester City taking their fairy tale to fantastical heights. The four games in question though will have to really go some to rival these unforgettable encounters: the greatest last-eight clashes this prestigious tournament has so far witnessed.
Borussia Dortmund 3 Malaga 2 2013
Manuel Pellegrini’s side had confounded all expectations of those with only a passing knowledge of Spanish football by finishing fourth in La Liga then embarking on a thrilling Champions League adventure. In reality though – as unglamorous as La Rosaleda are in the great scheme of things – this was a superb outfit funded by Qatari investment featuring the highly-regarded talents of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Jeremy Toulalan, and Santi Cazorla. Add in a blossoming Isco and Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal and the German champions knew their favourite tag was barely deserved.
A goal-less stalemate in Spain for the first leg oddly satisfied both leaving Dortmund with home advantage but Malaga looking for a priceless away goal which duly came from Joaquin after 25 minutes. Lewandowski levelled the contest up by the break but with eight minutes remaining Malaga surely secured their passage to the semis with a late ‘winner’. Or so they thought.
Jurgen Klopp’s men bundled home a 91st minute equaliser to give them slender hope before one of the most controversial and dramatic goals took place with seconds remaining. Three Dortmund players were clearly offside for its build-up with one – Felipe Santana – remaining offside to stab the ball home.
Formal complaints were filed to both UEFA and FIFA but the damage was done with the hurt lasting long after the final whistle.
Chelsea 4 Liverpool 4 2009
A tremendous 3-1 win at Anfield meant the Blues only needed to shut up shop at Stamford Bridge to progress to their first ever Champions League semi but they failed to factor in the spirit of Istanbul that still ran through this Liverpool side. An early Aurelio opener was swiftly followed by an Alonso spot-kick and suddenly it was game on with the hosts now needing to score.
It is to the credit of Scolari’s team that they did – three times in fact – as they took complete control of the second half and showed the pedigree that would win them the league twelve months later.
Yet Liverpool refused to lie down, scoring twice in quick succession with minutes remaining and leaving them just one goal shy of an incredible comeback.
A last-gasp Frank Lampard effort settled a tie that never dipped below frenetic throughout and can justifiably be termed as the best of British.
Manchester United 7 Roma 1 2007
A narrow 2-1 win in Rome must have greatly encouraged the Italian giants into believing a famous night at Old Trafford was possible. They could have no way of knowing what Sir Alex Ferguson’s boys had in store despite being weakened by injuries.
United were simply irresistible on this occasion, sweeping past Roma with such relish they made their esteemed visitors look decidedly ordinary.
A first half blitzkrieg saw them four goals up and there was little let up in the second period either with wave after wave of attacks resulting in the kind of score-line that makes headlines across the continent.
Prior to kick-off many questioned the inclusion of Alan Smith, returning from fourteen months out and selected as the lone striker. Smith duly scored with even Michael Carrick getting a brace and nearly firing in a hat-trick towards the end. It was that kind of evening.
Deportivo La Coruna 4 Milan 0 2004
AC Milan were the reigning champions and all-round European royalty. Deportivo were Spain’s miracle club who had risen to prominence after decades of financial strife and yo-yoing through the divisions. Naturally it followed then that Kaka, Shevchenko, Pirlo and company dished out a comprehensive 4-1 lesson at the San Siro ahead of this sensational second leg.
A fifth minute strike by Walter Pandiani – who would soon after flop badly at Birmingham City – sparked a ferocious atmosphere at Estadio Riazor while a second prodded home from close range by the elegant midfielder Valeron raised the decibels further.
Milan’s imperious defence was now under siege and after the post was struck on three separate occasions Albert Luque – who would soon after flop badly at Newcastle – raced past Cafu to slot home a 44th minute decider. Fran’s second half effort capped off an unbelievable drubbing as Milan’s princes flailed in despair.
Manchester United 4 Real Madrid 3 2003
As hugely engrossing as this game undoubtedly was it really centred on only one man: Ronaldo; the man dubbed ‘the Phenomenon’; the magnificent Galactico; the original and the best.
United were trailing 3-1 from the Bernabeu but a packed out Old Trafford had the scent of another famous European night in their nostrils only to be dumbfounded on arrival to learn of David Beckham’s demotion to the bench. That Goldenballs scored twice late-on should have been the headline story and certainly would have been on any other occasion. This night though belonged to Ronaldo who had already secured Real’s progress with an enchanting hat-trick that accompanied a typically brilliant individual performance.
The 67,000 present all rose as one at the end of a highly eventful 90 minutes to acknowledge a true legend of our times. For an opposition player there is no higher praise.